Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The Police interview of Jimmy Savile shows what a manipulative paedophile he was

Savile with OBE
When you read the recently released interview by Surrey Police in 2009 of Jimmy Savile with the hindsight we have now, it is almost a textbook exercise in the manipulative powers of the paedophile. At the time, he was Sir Jimmy Savile OBE who gave heaps of cash to charity, and did benedictory work for the disadvantaged with friends in high places and influence with media and politicians alike. So how could anybody possibly believe that throughout his life, he abused under age girls, and boys?

Well, what are the necessary tools which a paedophile needs to hoodwink, groom and then abuse a child?
Fundamentally, child abuse is an opportunity and desire by a sex offender to abuse whatever power he has to entrap a victim.
  1. Charm - no child will go off with a dirty old man in a mack.
  2. Persuasion - but not in a dominant or bombastic way - with guile and intrigue, possibly some humour.
  3. Manipulative - he has to have this in spades. Not only does he manipulate his victim, but also all those around the child who might protect him/her from harm. So how does the manipulation work?
Now let us go back to the Savile interview. How does "Sir" Jimmy manipulate his interviewer at the police force who were interviewing him?
  1. Savile had persuaded them not to interview him at the police station, which presumably was in Surrey, but rather on his home turf at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where he was more in control of the situation than he would have been if he had been interviewed at a police station in Surrey. The HMIC said it was wrong to allow Savile to choose where and when his ‘ineffective’ interview took place.
  2. He quickly takes over the conversation, in order to avoid having to answer difficult questions by simply making a speech, which was nothing more than a self image boasting rant, designed to convince his interviewers that all the serious allegations of sexual abuse did not amount to anything they should even investigate.
  3. His tone is overtly casual, relaxed and fluent, but has an undercurrent of malevolence and threats, which are intended to hint at how much power he has to make life difficult for the police if they misguidedly decided to prosecute him. 
  4. He says he has friends in high places not only with the police in Leeds whom he shares his threatening letters. He implies they share his view that these girls are just after some money by making false allegations against him.
  5. He refers to the girls as midges who chase him, and  "you can brush them away like midges and it's not much of a price to pay for the lifestyle." What greater image of ultimate power is there than a large human swatting a midge. This just makes him sound more powerful.
  6. He refers in the interview to being able to sue newspapers who cross him, or indeed anyone who gets in his way. He even suggests that they police could end up taken by Savile to the Old Bailey if they are not careful.
  7. Ironically he emphasises his power, belittles his victims saying they are like flies who buzz around him for attention, whom he can pick and choose at will by virtue of his incredibly powerful celebrity status.
  8. In typical paedophile fashion, he blames the victims for lieing and simply being interested in his celebrity status and money, which they need for "Christmas". He says his blackmail and threats do get worse at the season of "goodwill".
If one were to write a textbook on how to be a successful paedophile in complete control of everything around you, to enable you to abuse children at will, then the life of Savile and this police interview are a good but frightening example of how to go about it.

Abuse of power is a very dangerous thing. Countries have been dictated and fallen because of its evil side effects. It is like any quality. In extremis it is frightening.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The case of Keanu Williams makes Mandatory Reporting more important

Keanu Williams was found dead with 37 injuries including bite marks, a fractured skull and a fist-sized tear in his stomach in January 2011. He was left for dead by his mother Rebecca Shuttleworth for over 18 hours because the injuries she had inflicted upon him could not be explained away.

On 25th June 2013 she was given a life sentence by Birmingham Crown Court and ordered to serve a minimum of 18 years. Her partner Luke Southerton was convicted of cruelty but cleared of murder.

The serious case review will be published at 11am today but is embargoed until 11am to a locked room of journalists in order to make sure it is not leaked.

I am about to go on BBC News 24 & Radio 5 to get the message across. Hopefully we can divert the media to dealing with the point, and encourage politicians to change the law.

From reports of the criminal trial it is likely that it will be said that a lot of opportunities will be missed by the services to:-
  1. Take him into care and away from his parents by Social Services.
  2. Report obvious signs of abuse so as to avoid the death which occurred.
  3. Police, Social Services, his school, and the NHS apparently all had contact with him, but only saw pieces of the jigsaw. The bits were never joined up until his mother finally exploded and beat him to death.
Mandatory Reporting is the obvious answer
  1. Make failure to report actual or suspected abuse a criminal offence
  2. Limit it to professionals carrying out a regulated activity ie. looking after children.
  3. Bring England into line with the USA where it has been the law since 1963, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Northern & Southern Ireland, and many other countries.
We have a petition you can sign -  http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/educationgovuk-introduce-law-requiring-adults-working-with-children-to-report-alleged-abuse-mandatenow

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Little Stars Nursery case shows how Mandatory Reporting could prevent child abuse.

Paul Wilson - life sentence
The story of the Little Stars Nursery touches every heart string - no pun intended that this story appeared on the Heart FM page after they, together with thousands of other media outlets featured it yesterday - you can read the whole story here.

If Mandatory Reporting was introduced then the chances of this abuser remaining unreported and unchecked would have been much less likely. In simple terms it is not, and has never been, a criminal offence in this country for a professional to witness or suspect that abuse is taking place, yet fail to report it to either the police or the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer). We are way behind our Commonwealth partners, America, and many other countries round the world, where it is an offence punishable through the criminal courts. I have repeatedly blogged about this already.

The abuse of toddlers is particularly shocking, particularly during a nursery session. How must parents feel, when they know that the very person entrusted to look after their children abused them.

The abuser in this case was quite young - only 23 - one wonders what sort of upbringing he must have had, if he has chosen to abuse children. The statistics show that 95% of child abusers were abused in childhood. I am sure that the criminal court which gave him a life sentence, will have had the benefit of expert psychiatric or psychological evidence to help it.

Locking him up for life without some sort of investigation into his past will keep him away from the public, but we will not, as a society, find out why he did such an appalling thing, unless money is invested into a proper investigation. We need to find out why, so that we can detect the warning signs in others before it is too late.

Obviously the media are focusing on the victim rather than the perpetrator, who does not appear to have been demonised in this case.

The report in the media, however, focuses on the serious case review which has uncovered repeated failings by not only the nursery staff, but also Birmingham City Council, and Offsted. The obvious sanction is a criminal prosecution, but the police are powerless and toothless.

To quote the article,
"The inquiry's found council workers, Ofsted and staff at the nursery in Birmingham all failed to act...knowing he had a 'special relationship' with the child

In a statement, a spokesman for Birmingham City Council said the authority was sorry that it had failed to properly respond to concerns about Wilson.

Wilson is known to have raped the toddler on separate occasions about six months apart during his employment at Little Stars, which began in October 2009."
So what is the answer - change the law to make Mandatory Reporting a criminal offence. Join our petition, now, and invite all your Facebook friends to sign it also. Go to our petition by following this link.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

More training for barristers, judges, and protection of victims of abuse is needed

Snaresbrook Crown Court
It seems that the media's thirst for abuse stories is unquenchable. Every day we hear about another aspect. Sentences of paedophiles are too lenient, and barristers are making insulting remarks to child witnesses in abuse cases. I am about to give an interview to Smooth FM in which I will give my opinion on the story which made headlines this morning.

A 41 year old man who abused a child of 13, denied his guilt, and made the victim give evidence. He was convicted and given an  8 month suspended sentence at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

The prosecuting barrister called her predatory when addressing the court.Charities have made the very good point that if the man was 41 and the girl 13, then there is no doubt who was the predator.

The Attorney General is looking at the sentence, and considering whether it was so lenient that it needs to be referred to the Court of Appeal.

The Bar Council have commented that they hold training courses for barristers to make sure that they behave properly, and respect the wishes of victims, which is laudable.

Victims of abuse find it very difficult to come forward, and the law has moved a long way in this direction since I was first involved in this subject back in 1994. Vulnerable adults now enjoy the same protection as children, which is a move in the right direction.

Why a member of the Crown Prosecution Service should criticise his own witness, and call her predatory, when he is on the side of the witness is difficult to understand. Presumably he must have been asked to comment by the judge?

The Defendant is said to have thought that the girl was older than she was. The judge took into this into account when passing sentence.

At one time it was not possible to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal, whereas now it is. The rights of the individual have become much more important than the interests of the state in an increasingly consumer orientated world.

Human Rights are now much more ingrained in our legal system, despite complaints by politicians, who maintain they interfere with the sovereignty of parliament. Personally I think it provides much needed balance to a previously precedent led system.

What do I think? I am very much in favour of protecting the rights of the victim, who usually has much less power than others, be it their abuser, parents, policemen, courts, government, or school. Balance of power, however is fundamentally important in a civilised society.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Daniel Pelka deserves better. The law needs to change - Mandatory Reporting

Daniel Pelka
Yet another tragic child death - Climbiee, Baby P, and now poor Daniel Pelka. This time the authorities say they were conned by the parents, yet there were obvious signs of abuse which were missed. Both parents were on drugs, and probably didn't know what they were doing.

Whilst cases of child deaths caused by parents are rare - less than 100 per year, inevitably they attract headlines, raw emotions, demands for heads to roll etc.

In the case of Baby P the head of social services at Harringey was dismissed in a rather hurried fashion after the political involvement of Ed Balls, then succeeded in proving unfair dismissal with an award of compensation.

If there had been a mandatory reporting obligation at the time, then it would have been possible to prosecute someone for failure to report signs of the child abuse.

In the USA the law since 1963 has made failure to report abuse a criminal offence. Indeed England is one of the only commonwealth countries where it is not yet a breach of criminal law.

The government are resisting attempts to make it contrary to the criminal law, one presumes because of vested interests in opposition.

One does not want to impose criminal prosecutions on professionals save in the most exceptional cases.

The rule would operate rather like corporate manslaughter in the field of health and safety breaches in factories, where a director of a company can be prosecuted if a death occurs for breach of safety regulations.

There are perilously few criminal cases, but the deterrent effect works.

Hopefully tonight on News 24, I will be able to interest the government in changing the law. There is an opportunity at the moment as the Children's and Families Bill goes through Parliament.

Together with the Survivor's Trust, Innocence in Danger, NAPAC, and Survivors, I am challenging the government to do the right thing.

Our petition needs signing - sign it now

Monday, 15 July 2013

Mandatory Reporting - the latest

Picture courtesy of Nick Ballon of the Guardian
Interest in our campaign of mandatory reporting is slowly gathering momentum - in summary we are pushing government to make it a criminal offence to fail to report abuse that someone is aware of taking place to a child. We have narrowed the offence to those professionals whose job it is to look afer children. You can sign our petition here. So far we have nearly 2000 signature.

It is illegal in most commonwealth countries - Canada, & Australia, as well as Argentina, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Sweden, USA, and now the Republic of Ireland, which has recently held a referendum found to be in overwhelming support of the new law. In these countries, if you do not report abuse you are aware of it is a crminal offence.

Louise Tickle of the Guardian wrote this excellent article on the subject, which is centred around the recent appalling case of Nigel Leat who abused girls at Hillside School under the noses of teachers. It is entitled "Sex abuse in schools: the parents who want a change to the law." Complaints were made of the abuse to the headmaster, who did not pass them onto the police or social services. Leat hoodwinked everyone with his charm, and was not suspected for years. Leat was culpably negligent, and went to prison for an indefinite period of time two years ago.

A serious case review heavily criticised the headmaster for not passing on this complaints to either the police or the local authority. They allege that staff registered their complaints and made about 30 different complaints about Leat, 11 of which went to the headmaster. None of the complaints went anywhere. The point is that if the head had acted on any of the complaints, Leat would have been reported to the police, year earlier, and scores of children would have been saved from years of abuse.

No one wants to prosecute scores of headmasters/teachers, or social workers who turn a blind eye, because most of them are hardworking dedicated adults. It is the deterrent factor which will work on the minds in charge of child care, and encourage them to report.

Think about it - a private fee paying school with a good reputation has a child abuse problem. The headmaster knows that, if he reports the abuse to the LADO, there will be an investigation, scandal, and no one will want to send their children to the school. What does he do?

  1. Report the paedophile and risk the downfall of his school, OR
  2. Do nothing in the hope that the problem goes away. This way he keeps the pupils, his income, his, but the abuse carries on.
One can see that whichever he chooses there is a conflict. If he knows that if he doesn't report at the time, he will be committing a criminal offence and risk going to prison, then surely that will act on his mind and encourage him to contact the LADO (Local Authority Disclosure Officer).

The government line is that is not necessary to have a criminal sanction for this and that they can rely upon regulations, which provide for the very guidelines which are not being obeyed it seems. There are very clear guidelines which say abuse should always be reported to the police.

The teachers associations are one of the opponents. They do not want their members prosecuted and are lobbying the government hard not to legislate, but rather to relay on the internal guidelines. This was the attitude to the press for years, and look what has happened to them?

The Home Affairs Committee report into “Child sexual exploitation and the response to localised grooming” was published on 10 June 2013 and Recommendation No.36 says :

We also recommend that the Government examine the Florida Protection of Vulnerable Persons Act passed in 2012 in order to ascertain whether the mandatory reporting of child abuse could, and should, be implemented in England and Wales.
One of our supporters Jame Rhodes, the pianist, will be broadcasting a fabulous programme on Channel 4 on 24th July at 10pm. He will be talking about his childhood abuse. He is advocating a change in the law to make mandatory reporting a criminal offence, and has said so on Twitter.

So once again SIGN OUR PETITION

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Will Irish Magdalene Laundries Victims get the justice they deserve as compensation scheme is announced?

Magdalene Laundry at New Ross
The new controversial Magdalene Laundries compensation scheme was announced by the Irish Government last week for all the badly treated women at the hands of the religious congregations which ran them for many years.

The sequence of events which led to the announcement is the pinnacle of many years of hard campaigning by the Magdalene women for justice they dearly deserve.

Thousands of women and girls were forced into unpaid labour at the Catholic-run workhouses that operated for decades in the Republic of Ireland.

Last February saw the publication of the 1,000-page McAleese Report. It found that approximately 10,000 women and girls had been put into the laundries between the founding of the State and 1996 when the last one closed. The Irish government were implicated, and embarrassed by the findings.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny in a tearful address apologised in parliament for the "national shame" of the laundries after a report found that a quarter of the women were sent there by the Irish state.

The Irish government has agreed to pay between 35m and 58m euros (£30m to £50m) in redress to about 600 women. Out of respect for the needs and feelings of the victims one would have thought that the government would want medical evidence, and would assess the harm that was caused, in the usual way that compensation schemes work. So the more damage that was caused, the larger the figure awarded.

Not so with the Irish scheme. Mr Justice Quirke has recommended that the women in question should all receive cash payments in the range €11,500 (if their duration of stay was three months or less) to €100,000 (duration of stay of 10 years or more).

Judge Quirke’s other recommendations include:
  • The Magdalene women should all be granted access without charge to a wide range of services (GP, hospital, drugs, dental counselling etc.) i.e. an enhanced medical card;
  • All Magdalene women who have reached pensionable age should have an income equivalent to the State contributory pension;
  • All Magdalene women who have not reached pensionable age should have an income from the State of €100 per week;
  • The cash payments should be exempt from income and other taxes and should not be taken into account for the purposes of means testing social welfare or other entitlements and should not affect funding under sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act 2004;
  • The creation of a dedicated unit to provide advice and support, assistance in meeting with the religious congregations, social opportunities to meet other such women and to provide for the creation and maintenance of a memorial park;
  • The extension of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 so that persons are appointed to look after on an individual basis the best interests of Magdalene women;
  • Any previous payments made to these women under the Residential Redress Scheme should not be taken into account
So the scheme has been made somewhat two dimensional and simplistic. Why? Somewhat naively to make it possible to avoid victims having to use lawyers to help them with their applications. The point is that if the victims were badly educated, then they will need help with the forms, and correspondence. They are also likely to be damaged by their experiences, and will want to avoid dealing with the details repeatedly. The same applies to people who do their own probate after a near relative has died. This serves as a constant reminder of the grief that is ever present.

The Irish Redress Scheme which is now closed encouraged lawyers to be involved and paid their fees for so doing. It recognised that due to a lack of education, literacy etc. the victims would need help. The Magalene Laundries should have been included in the Redress Scheme. If this mistake had not been made, then the victims would have been entitled to instruct a lawyer without charge.

What the motive is behind the Irish Government's determination to exclude lawyers this time, I don't know. It is an easy jibe to say that as a lawyer I would say that wouldn't I? I have been acting for the victims of abuse for nearly 20 years. I know how they struggle emotionally, and how much help they need. The process is painful in itself. They need the assistance of someone to support their emotional and legal needs.

What reaction has the scheme received from the survivors? Mixed. Some are welcoming it, and others angry that it isn't enough. Ex-resident Maureen Sullivan, from Magdalene Survivors Together, said her campaign group had "rejected the deal".She said the amount of money she personally would be entitled to through the redress scheme had not been worked out yet, but it was "not very much".

Abuse carries with it life long scars. It is wrong to award money based upon how long the women were in the laundries. One has to assess the medical effects on each person. It is not unusual of someone to sustain massive damage from one incident if they are particularly fragile, whereas others who suffer serious abuse can react in a particularly robust way. This crude method also disrespects the feelings of the victims, and does not treat them as individuals.

It is sad that a motive to save money has been cloaked in a dig at lawyers - nothing new there however. I have looked at the Irish Redress Board figures. Far from "much of the money" being spent on lawyers as reported by RTE News, the figures I saw for 2010 and 2011 showed that legal fees were  between 20 and 25% of the compensation awarded.

We will see what develops, as the figures have not been finalised yet. It is said that as many as 600 women have been sent letters. Let us hope that whether or not they seek help, they get the justice they truly deserve.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Is it wrong for a pupil to have a sexual relationship with a teacher?

Jeremy Forrest in Court
The title of the BBC News Magazine article which spurred me on to write this article is entitled "How often do abusive teacher-pupil relationships occur?" The recent prosecution of Jeremy Forrest has brought this discussion to the surface

A different breed of abuse allegations by girls who are in teenage years, and actually adored their abuser in a sense at the time is coming to the fore in view of the Savile cases. Teacher cases have been around for many years. Abuse of power by someone in a position of responsibility is always wrong, no matter who the dominant and servient characters are. The point is that the degree of acceptance by the public varies depending upon the facts. The following are examples:-
  1. Male Teacher/Careworker on teenage boy of 14 involving grooming, anal abuse, and violence. The abuser used mental techniques to confuse the victim by one day being nice, and the next day ignoring him/her - obviously unacceptable and wrong.
  2. Female Teacher/Careworker on teenage boy of 15, who claims he enjoyed being seduced and engaging in intercourse, but later realised how wrong it was, when approached by the police who were investigating allegations by other younger girls. Sometimes the police have to remind the survivor that what happened was a  crime, because he was under age at the time.
  3. Male Teacher rapes girl of 15 - obviously wrong. Girl claims she fell in love with teacher and seduced him. Also wrong, but would she ever report the crime?
  4. Female survivor of abuse aged 17 who was indecently assaulted by a celebrity pop star in an inappropriate way after a pop concert in 1968 when the age of consent was 18.
The list of examples are endless. The points are:-
  1. All the examples are abusive and could result in prosecutions by the police now.
  2. In some examples, the allegations may never result in a report to the police.
  3. The public if asked in a random way would consider some allegations less blameworthy than others.
  4. The attitude of the public will vary depending upon how well liked the celebrity is in their eyes.
  5. Some "fans" of celebrities take the view that anyone who complains of abuse against their idol is at fault. Some of them send hate mail to anyone who takes action against the idol. One thinks of Michael Jackson.
  6. There is a view which is gathering pace, and which, unfortunately, takes the side of the abuser saying that if the abuse took place many years ago it should remain in the past, as opposed to raking up old allegations and ruining the life of an "old man", who is ill.
  7. So manipulative are abusers, that even many years later, the victims are still under his/her spell to the extent that they feel guilty in reporting the crime.
  8. One imagines that all survivors will be angry at any sentence of imprisonment claiming it is insufficient. This is not true. Some actually feel sorry for the guilty man going to prison.
Many of the actors in Coronation Street are now in Court facing allegations of abuse. I just hope that the reaction of the public to such famous cases will not turn the wrong way, and discourage victims of abuse from coming forward.

To make disclosure even many years later can be cathartic, and help heal the wounds of the past. Abuse gives survivors a life sentence. Complaints can help them seek justice. One hopes that they will have the courage to come forward instead of taking their secret to their graves.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Victim's Right to Review is definitely a good thing

I was on Radio 5 live at 7.05am this morning - when no doubt most of you were just waking up - to air my views on the newly announced "Victim's Right to Review". I was saying it was a good thing, and well overdue, whereas Helen Simms from Pannone was putting the case for the accused, whom, she feared, would suffer the uncertainty of whether or not he/she was going to be prosecuted hanging over his/her head for longer than was fair.

The new procedure is quite simple.The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has today launched a new policy that enshrines a victim’s right to request a review of any decision taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to not charge a suspect or to stop a prosecution. A 3 month consultation starts today

To quote from the press release

“The criminal justice system historically treated victims as bystanders and accordingly gave them little say in their cases. The decisions of prosecutors were rarely reversed because it was considered vital that decisions, even when later shown to be questionable, were final and could be relied upon. This approach was intended to inspire confidence, but in reality it had the opposite effect. Refusing to admit mistakes can seriously undermine public trust in the criminal justice system.

“It is now recognised by the criminal justice system that the interests of justice and the rights of the victim can outweigh the suspect's right to certainty. This is already reflected in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, but more needs to be done to correct this historic imbalance and ensure that the people affected by our decisions can hold us to account. Victims’ Right to Review is a major step in the right direction. It recognises that victims are active participants in the criminal justice process, with both interests to protect and rights to enforce.”

Any victim of crime, which includes bereaved family members or other representatives, can now ask the CPS to look again at a case following a decision not to charge, to discontinue proceedings or offer no evidence. Those entitled to an enhanced service under the Victims’ Code will also be offered a discussion with a prosecutor about the outcome of the review.

Mr Starmer continued: “These reviews will be an entirely fresh examination of all the evidence and circumstances of a case. If a charge is justified and there are no legal barriers to prosecution, the mistake will be put right. Making fair decisions and delivering justice is the priority.”

The point is that we have acted for hundreds if not thousands of victims of child abuse over the last 20 years. There comes a point in every victim's life, when it feels right to start talking about what happened to him/her. The appropriate time may be 30 to 50 years after the event. So distressing is the memory that it often remains a shameful secret for many years. During that time they can tell no one. All the painful thoughts and memories turn inwards, and cause harm to the victim.

So courageous and difficult is their decision, that it often unleashes torrents of pent up anger and hunger for justice. So when they approach the police, and are given hope that their story is going to be believed rather than rejected as a lie, it rekindles their faith in the system of authority, which previously they may have distrusted.

So imagine how the victim feels when they are told by the Crown Prosecution Service that they don't have a case, or that their hope of punishing their abuser has been dashed. They suspect foul play, corruption, or just give up again feeling deflated.

It is important that victims of abuse are heard and believed. Often they have tried to complain as a child, and been disbelieved, or called liars. In the worst cases, they may have been severely punished for speaking out, and/or been threatened by their abuser with terrifying fates. So having tried to complain once, they decide that it is not worth telling anyone about what happened to them. They thus remain silent for the next 30 to 50 year, or perhaps take the sad memories to their grave after, usually, leading a dysfunctional life.

Thus the journey of complaint in later life is a rocky one, and fraught with difficulty. Under the old regime, the victim's only route to overturn a decision not to prosecute was judicial review, which is expensive, and with cuts in Legal Aid, unlikely to receive funding.

Will the victim be entitled to an advocate at public expense to express his/her wishes? Doubtful.

To be fair the published guidelines do contemplate a fairly speedy process, so the thoughts of the accused remaining in limbo for too long are, to some extent, mitigated.

So this review process is to be welcomed as it gives the victim a voice. They often end up at our door, frustrated because they have been unable to achieve the justice they deserve and seek. We often cannot help them, but suggest the alternative route of a compensation claim. So maybe this new system will mean fewer claims.

Sadly, I suspect that the weakest, most badly damaged victims, will not have the energy to pursue a complaint or "right to review", and will retreat back into the hole from whence they came. Let us hope that the overstretched National Health Service can take up the need for mental health treatment that will inevitably follow. Let us also hope that the Welfare State will provide them with much needed financial support as they struggle to function in the difficult world of post disclosure.



Monday, 29 April 2013

Is the North Wales recent report into abuse a surprise?

North Wales Police investigate abuse
North Wales Police warned sex offenders
The recent report into North Wales Children's Homes from Operation Pallial does not surprise me at all. I was involved with North Wales way back in the late 1990's. It was clear then that resources prevented the police from conducting as thorough an investigation as they would have liked.

It was thus no surprise that the victims thought there had been a cover up, when they maintained that abuse outside the children's home in a pub in Wrexham by visiting paedophiles had been ignored by the Waterhouse enquiry. The fact was that the enquiry did not have the budget to be as wide spread as it would have liked. They thus set the boundaries as abuse in children's homes rather than outside of the homes. This angered the victims and led them to believe that there was a definite attempt to cover up the abuse of well known individuals. The leakage of a name was fatal to the BBC as we all heard.

I am sitting in the Green Room at the BBC in Salford, having just done an interview as the President of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers. The interviewer was concerned that the victims are unlikely to get prosecutions and thus justice due to lack of resources. Will the message get through to the victims? I doubt it to be honest. Will they be angry? Definitely. They have had the courage to come forward, yet they will not be successful in getting justice before the criminal courts.

It is made clear in the BBC report that the enquiry led to "140 allegations of historical abuse between 1963 and 1992.

Seventy six new complainants have also come forward.

The claims centre on 18 homes involving offences against boys and girls aged between seven and 19.

A total of 84 suspected offenders have been named - 75 male and nine female. Of these, 16 have been named by more than one complainant.

It is believed that 10 of the 16 may be deceased."

The problem is of course that the abuse happened many years ago - like Savile - the alleged abuser is dead. Thus there is no possibility of a prosecution and no justice for the victims.

Unless they go to civil lawyers to claim compensation. It is common for Claimants to come forward because the police cannot prosecute. Their burden of proof is different to ours -

The Police - "Beyond reasonable doubt"
Civil Claims - "On the balance of probabilities"

We have brought many claims against the employers of abusers who are themselves dead. It all depends upon the preponderance of the evidence - and strength in numbers. The longer ago it is the more difficult the task.

Never say never. We specialise in winning the un-winable.

We have a specialised helpline for the victims of abuse  0845 604 7075

Sadly and understandably, many victims will have had enough and retreat back into their caves of inner contemplation that they have been living in ever since the abuse took place. Lonely and dank though the cave is, it is safer than the outside world of disclosure and pain.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Should the British Government behave like the Irish did towards Magdalene Laundries?

The Film - Magdalene Laundries
For some reason, the Irish Government get it, when it comes to their attitude towards abuse and the protection of children, whereas the British Government don't get it in the same way. You may have noticed the recent apology from the Irish Prime Minister in relation to the Magdalene Laundries scandal. The BBC News Site stated:-
"The Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), Enda Kenny, has formally apologised on behalf of the state for its role in the Magdalene laundries.
Some 10,000 women and girls were made to do unpaid manual labour in laundries run by Roman Catholic nuns in Ireland between 1922 and 1996."
Would we have seen a British Prime Minister apologising in the same way? I leave you to answer that question. No doubt we would have seen multiple enquiries set up and a promise of "transparency", but not an apology.

The Irish government have also announced the setting up of a compensation scheme for the victims of the laundries. It is in its early stages but according to the BBC " victims are being urged to register with the Republic of Ireland's Department of Justice in preparation for the provision of compensation and support services"

"People may contact the Department of Justice on 01-476 8649 or by writing to: Magdalene Laundry Fund, c/o Department of Justice and Equality, Montague Court, Montague Street, Dublin 2."

Some of the background facts about Magdalene Laundries:-
  • Originally termed Magdalene Asylums the first in Ireland was opened in Dublin in 1765, for Protestant girls
  • First Catholic home was founded in Cork in 1809
  • Envisaged as short-term refuges for 'fallen women' they became long-term institutions and penitents were required to work, mostly in laundries on the premises
  • They extended to take in unmarried mothers, women with learning difficulties and girls who had been abused
  • The facilities were self-supporting and the money generated by the laundries paid for them
  • Between 1922 and 1996 there were 10 such laundries in the Republic of Ireland
  • Many Irish institutions, such as the army, government departments, hotels and even Guinness had contracts with Magdalene laundries
  • The women toiled behind locked doors unable to leave after being admitted and while the laundries were paid, they received no wages
  • The congregations which ran them were the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
The Irish deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste), Eamon Gilmore, said he wanted to tell the survivors that "we have heard you, we believe you, and we are profoundly sorry for what was done to you". The atmosphere in the Irish Parliament was emotional, and the survivors in the public gallery received a standing ovation - how refreshing - we can learn lessons in England from this display of emotion.

An inquiry chaired by Senator Martin McAleese found more than 2,000 women and girls were sent to the laundries by the state authorities, and many Irish institutions, such as the army and some government departments, had contracts with the laundries.

Women were forced into Magdalene laundries for a crime as minor as not paying for a train ticket, the McAleese report found.

The report also confirmed that a police officer could arrest a girl or a woman without warrant if she was being recalled to the laundry or if she had run away.

This is not the first time that the Irish government has done the right thing by the victims of abuse - in 2001 there was a similar apology by the Taoiseach in relation to abuse in Irish Institutions where widespread abuse took place for many years in the past. A list of homes was compiled, with the noticeable omission of the Magdalene Laundries. The government then set up the Irish Redress Board, which closed its doors again, after making many compensation awards in 2005

We at Abney Garsden acted for about 80 claimants to the Board who were successful in their cases. Whilst it is a shame that the Laundries were not included in the former Redress Board remit, at least the Irish Government have rectified the earlier omission.

The exact terms of the scheme have not yet been published, and are awaited with interest. It is likely to be of interest to many Irish emigrants who fled the homeland to escape not only memories of their experiences but also a lack of opportunity. The authors of the McAleese Report estimated that over 800 former residents are still alive.

Many energetic women have campaigned tirelessly. There will be, however, many others, who have never come forward, and should consider doing so.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Was William Roche right to criticise the victims of abuse?

William Roache apologises for his remarks.
If you have not seen the headlines, William Roache (Ken in Coronation Street) has been slammed for making insenstive remarks to a New Zealand TV interviewer about the victims of abuser celebrities. He more or less said that young girls are drawn to celebrities, and then complain of abuse when it all goes wrong.

He is no doubt influenced by the pending prosecution of  Michael Le Vell from Coronation Street who faces 19 charges of abusing young girls and is facing trial at Preston Court, or Stuart Hall, or indeed Andrew Lancel who played Frank Foster in Corrie

He said ""Paedophilia is absolutely horrendous. Paedophiles should be sought out, rooted out and dealt with.

But there's a fringe of people who, particularly pop singers, they have these groupies, these girls, who come, they're sexually active, sexually mature, they don't ask for their birth certificate, they don't know what age they may be.

But they're certainly not grooming them and exploiting them, but they can be caught in this trap.

These people are instantly stigmatised, some will be innocent, some will not, but until such time as it's proven there should be anonymity for both."

Roache has since apologised deeply for his remarks after the child abuse charities rightfully blasted him for his remarks which suggested that victims "brought these thing on themselves".

It is not surprising that abuse has remained a secret for so many years. It is very common. It is much easier to believe that someone whom you know and like - most paedophiles are likable, as otherwise they would not be able to get close to children - is innocent rather than guilty. Whether or not those charged are innocent or guilty, is of course a matter for the courts not the media.

Generally speaking, however the problem in the country has not been the profundity of allegations, but the suppression of allegations by those in a position of power, until the victim has the courage to speak out many years later.

We must encourage those who have been abused to speak out, not silence them with suggestions that they are to blame. Generally speaking, what causes the most damage in a victim of abuse is not the abuse itself, which indeed is manifestly harmful, but the guilt surrounding the crime, and the thought that they are to blame.

Most victims think that they must have encouraged the crime by the way they were as a child, or the way they behaved, which of course cannot be true, particularly where there is a huge age difference, and the abuser is in a position of trust.

Should there by anonymity for the abuser like the victim? I don't believe so. If the abuser's name is broadcast, it often provokes other complaints against the same person, as paedophiles rarely operate in isolation. Usually they have been caught doing something that has been repeated on many occasions in the past, but never been discovered.

As an abuse lawyer I know NAPAC personally, and agree with what they say. This comment is an insult to the victims of abuse, and should be the subject of an apology. It is welcome to hear Roache apologise for what he said, and rightfully so.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Mandatory Reporting of Abuse recommended by Inspector of Constabulary

Jimmy Savile
The recent report commissioned by Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary entitled "Mistakes were made" into the allegations and material concerning Jimmy Savile between 1964 and 2012 stretches to 61 pages, and makes 5 recommendations on the final page.

Mandatory Reporting of abuse is one of them -
"Recommendation 3
We consider that a system of mandatory reporting should be examined whereby those who, in the course of their professional duties, become aware of information or evidence that a child is or has been the victim of abuse should be under a legal obligation to notify their concerns to others."
The report describes how failures to action complaints by the police contributed to the failure to investigate and convict Savile in his lifetime. This is well documented elsewhere in the media, so I will skip over it for the time being.

The point is that a number of charities, including NAPAC, Innocence In Danger (whom I am working with), and the Survivor's Trust (representing over 100 survivor charities) have joined together with me to push for a change in the law. We are trying to encourage the support of parliament in a campaign.We will shortly be launching a petition.

To explain - mandatory reporting is explained above. It means that if a professional type of person (it can and has been extended to the public in some American jurisdictions) looking after children in "regulated activities" becomes aware that a child has been a victim of abuse, then he/she has a legal obligation to tell someone appropriate about it. Failure to report abuse then becomes an offence punishable in the Courts. That person could be a Local Authority officer or the Police. It matters not.

It is said in the report that:-
"there will always be instances in which the victim does not feel able to tell the police what has happened but does confide in others, such as health professionals. In addition, we recognise that, in those cases where there may be a pattern of sustained abuse, there are often behavioural changes that may alert those trained to recognise such signs. The issue then arises about what, if any, obligation should be placed on those third parties to notify others that they suspect that someone whom they know may have been the victim of sexual abuse.

...it is interesting to record that every State in the United States of America, all bar one Australian state and all bar one state in Canada have adopted some form of mandatory reporting requirements where there are allegations of child abuse or neglect."
I wrote to my MP in order to get a change in the law to introduce mandatory reporting. The official government position is set out in a letter of 27th February 2013, which I received from Damien Green MP, Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice. He says:-

"The Government is of the view that mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect would not improve the robust reporting procedures already in place.....the current law, along with the local safeguarding boards and other social services that are in place are adequate"
 In other words, thank you but no thank you.

It is thus heartening that the Police agree with us that mandatory reporting should become a criminal offence in the same way as it is in all other Commonwealth Countries. In fact it is also a criminal offence in countries such as Northern Ireland, Sweden, Argentina, Denmark, Finland, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Korea, Rwanda, Spain, and Sri Lanka. So why not England and Wales if the rest of the World think it is a good idea.

Mandatory Reporting has been a criminal offence in most states of America since the early 1960's.

In my experience of manifest abuse taking place in many institutions such as childrens homes from the 1960's to the 1980's, had it always been a criminal offence not to report, then it is much more likely that the abuse which took place would have been reported. The police would also have been able to report wardens in charge of Children's Homes, whom they knew had turned a blind eye to abuse in their children's home.

The Catholic Church who have repeatedly moved abusive priests from one parish to another could have been brought to book. It is also much more likely that Jimmy Savile would have been prosecuted in his lifetime rather than waiting until he died to carry out a retrospective dead end investigation.

Watch out for our petition launch and sign it. This law is vital to protect our children from harm.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

BBC News 24 Interview on CPS guidelines

I am giving my opinion on the Keir Starmer interview tonight on BBC News 24 at 7pm

It will be a good opportunity to push the need for mandatory reporting of abuse becoming a criminal offence and our proposed petition with a view to changing the law.

Will be a good chance to also dispel the myth of trawling being something the police shouldn't do.

New CPS Abuse Guidelines from Keir Starmer are welcome

A new policy for prosecution of abuse announced
In my position as President of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, and a solicitor specialising for the last 19 years in abuse cases on behalf of victims, I welcome the announcement of Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has announced that the guidelines used by the Crown Prosecution Service will be overhauled because prosecutors have recently been "too cautious" in their approach to deciding whether or not to commence criminal prosecutions against child sex offenders. He has said that we must avoid another Savile situation, where decisions as to whether to prosecute during the DJ's lifetime went the wrong way.

We constantly have to advise victims who have tried to have their abuser prosecuted by the police, but, for various reasons, been unable to do so. They thus turn to the civil process in an effort to exact some justice. That is to say, they launch a compensation claim, not to enrich themselves, but so as to do something to right wrongs that were committed in the past.

Keir Starmer talked about the pendulum swinging back to the middle from an over cautious approach. Back in the mid to late 1990's abuse investigations were crude, and new to all professionals alike. That is to say, lawyers, policemen, judges, prosecutors, and psychiatrists/psychologists. It was all so shocking that it was tackled with a moral enthusiasm, that came to be criticised by the allegedly wrongfully accused.

At one time 41 out of 43 police forces had a major abuse investigation in their area. Policemen with children became tasked with responding to and investigating allegations of abuse committed many years ago in various institutions, usually children's homes. The abuse spanned 3 decades from the 60's to the late 80's. It was decided at a very early stage, that if a sex offender was abusing a boy in a children's home, it was very unlikely that it was an isolated offence, and that in all likelihood a career paedophile was at work.

The Police were of course right, in that various men were prosecuted for abusing many victims over periods of years whilst working as care workers in homes. In most homes brutality was also practised in a climate of fear, threats, and intimidation. The victims were vulnerable, and in need of care and affection - they got the wrong type of attention. Instead of being cared for they were abused. The infamous North Wales enquiry is only one of scores of other enquiries which took place.

Eventually an organisation called FACT ("Falsely Accused Care Teachers") united to mount a campaign designed to stop the prosecution of allegedly wrongfully convicted care workers. They teamed up with journalists who specialised in the subject. There was then a Panorama programme by David Rose, for which I was unfairly edited, and wrongfully implicated as an encourager of false allegations.

Closely following thereafter was a Home Office Select Committee Enquiry in 2002, into alleged false allegations. It was motivated by desire to stop the police investigations in their tracks, by discrediting the approach of "trawling" for evidence - the process whereby the police went looking for allegations by contacting as many former residents of children's homes as they could find.

One can read the select committee report on the net. They did not interview any victims, and simply took what the convicted abusers, their supporters, lawyers, and investigative journalists had to say at face value, without realising that they all had an axe to grind. By the time of the enquiry, the police had produced a manual in which the practise of trawling was discouraged, as being the reverse of normal police methods. I gave evidence. I thought the committee would be interested in my suggestions for a change in the law - far from it - they wanted to accuse me of being hand in glove with the police for personal gain, which was not only insulting to my professionalism, but also an insult to my intelligence.

The Home Office rejected the conclusions of the report, but the die was cast. Despite me meeting with the Chief Constable of Dwyfed, who produced the investigator's manual, and pleading him to change nothing, procedure did change, the allegedly falsely accused had won, and the police became "over cautious" in their approach to the investigation of abuse. Between 2002 until the Savile scandal the pendulum had swung too far away from proper investigation.

Keir Starmer is implying that the police will have another look at the process of trawling, which, of course, is a perfectly proper method of investigating a crime. If there is a sex offender on the loose, the police want to find ALL his victims whether or not they have come forward, particularly those who have been attacked and got away. If he was operating in a children's home, it would be quite natural to interview all the residents who had come into contact with him, in an effort to find corroborative evidence. As long as the process takes place properly without encouraging people to make allegations it is perfectly proper, and is not "the reverse of normal police methods"

I have to say that back in 2002, after the select committee enquiry, I feared that we would end up in this position. It is a shame that it has taken Savile to wake everyone up.

What is the solution? Make mandatory reporting of abuse a criminal offence. If there was a legal obligation on those with the care of children to report abuse which they witness, and for the failure to report to be a criminal offence, as it is in all Commonwealth Countries, and even Ruanda, then abuse in the past might have been reported rather than covered up, as it has been in the Catholic church.

I am campaigning hard for a change in the law through support groups and Parliament. Shortly there will be a petition to sign on the Internet. Sign it please.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Lord Neuberger is right to speak out about Legal Aid

Lord Neuberger in interview with the BBC
After reading the interview with Lord Neuberger, head of the Supreme Court, by the BBC News, I began to realise that the doctrine of separation of powers, which I studied many years ago in my law degree is being mildly eroded. Whilst I applaud him for complaining about the withdrawal of Legal Aid, and criticising the government, I wonder whether it is philosophically more healthy to keep the powers apart.

If one reads the interview, which was repeated on the BBC Today programme this morning, with contributions from Lord Bach, Former Legal Aid Minister and currently a Shadow Justice Minister and Sir Edward Garnier, QC former Solicitor-General, it is clear that the government have come under attack from lawyers, who do not like the way they are eroding a fundamental right of access to justice, particularly for the poor and needy, many of whom are also abuse victims, and much in need of help. Sir Edward was justifying the cuts on the basis of the economic climate, and other methods of helping people such as mediation etc.

We act for the victims of abuse, but can only help one aspect of their problems - seeking justice for the abuse they suffered years ago. We would be unable to assist them with debt, housing, CICA claims, social welfare, or any of their other myriad problems after April because the government have taken away their fundamental right to access to justice. Were it not for some very vigorous campaigning on behalf of the victims of abuse, no doubt the government would have taken away legal aid  for abuse compensation claims.

One can imagine how the media would have dealt with that one if the government had gone the wrong way - put children in care and subject them to abuse, then when they have the courage to do something about it years later, take away their rights by denying them legal aid even though they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer? Thankfully this is a fictitious rather than a real position.

When the bill went through Parliament, it was defeated 14 times in the House of Lords, who ultimately backed ministers by the narrowest of margins, with 238 votes on each side - a tie means a victory for the government. Hardly a unanimously popular bill with whole hearted support from both sides of the political divide, as sometimes happens.

The papers dealt with different aspects of the Neuberger interview. Some went for the way in which he was responding to Theresa May's criticism of judges, who allegedly were "ignoring" rules on deporting foreign criminals.He said he would not get into a "slanging" match with Mrs May.

The interview came two weeks after Mrs May accused judges of making the UK more dangerous by ignoring rules aimed at deporting more foreign criminals. She told the Mail on Sunday that they were choosing to "ignore Parliament's wishes".

"I think attacking judges is not a sensible way to proceed," Lord Neuberger said.

So how do the comments of May and Neuberger breach the separation of powers principle? Fundamentally and simply - leave governing to the government, and judging to the judges. Government should respect the decisions of judges, and not criticise them.

When government interferes with judges decisions, the ultimate result is a state run judiciary, corruption, and a dictatorship. Lawyers are silenced if they protest, which they usually do if justice is not being done. Life gets out of balance - the scales of justice are not even. When you take away legal aid, the scales tip alarmingly in the wrong direction - in favour of those with money and against those without.

Similarly, if judges criticise government, then they are usurping their function. The example given to us as law students was judicial review cases, where the courts are asked to criticise governmental decisions. Arguably these types of case are a vital form of check and balance on the wrongful exercise of powers without consultation by government. In the news recently were plans to "streamline" judicial reviews by the Ministry of Justice. Thankfully they have launched a consultation on the changes - a process which results from judicial review decisions in itself. The Law Society Gazette headline, however was, "Judicial review changes could be harmful"

I don't think Lord Neuberger was overstepping the mark by responding to criticism of the Home Secretary. He was defending his judges and the separation of powers. It was May who should not have tried to interfere with judicial decisions, and the way in which Human Rights are interpreted by the Courts. At one time, however, the Head of the Supreme Court, would never have given an interview, and would have remained silent.

At the end of the day, the government cannot complain about laws which they give to judges to interpret. Judges simply interpret what they are given. If government don't like the result of cases, then it is up to them to change the law. When laws come into force, every consequence cannot be foreseen. The law of "unintended consequences" is not uncommon.

Monday, 4 March 2013

How liable is the Catholic Church for its priests?

The Pope addresses his audience
The Supreme Court has just refused leave to appeal to the trustees of Portsmouth Roman Catholic Diocesan Trust. The Court of Appeal had allowed an appeal by a 48-year-old woman known as JGE, who cannot be named for legal reasons. She said that as a child she was beaten by a nun at a convent-run care home and later raped and sexually assaulted by a priest. The story is reported in the Guardian.

The argument surrounds something lawyers call "vicarious liablity", or, in common parlance, the legal responsibility of an employer for what an employee does whilst working for him/her.

The problem with the law, and why there have been so many appeals for years, is how one places limits on the fringes of the rule eg:-
  1.  Is a volunteer, who is not paid, an employee?
  2. What about a priest who is not paid by the church, but from the collection he gets every week in church.
  3. Is a contractor liable for what a sub-contractor does wrong?
  4. What is an employer liable for? If an employee takes a boy to his house during working hours in order avoid the prying eyes of his employer, and abuses him there, is that something which is within the scope of employment?
  5. Is an illegal act, which is simply an aberrant action, and forbidden by the rules of the job, something for which an employer (or more accurately his insurers) is liable for?
  6. Is someone who is not employed to look after children, but does work on premises where children are frequently present, liable?
In most of the above cases, an employer will be liable for what his/her employee does. The law has developed in this way, largely as a result of child abuse cases over the years.

The simplest explanation I have heard is from a case called Lister v Hesley Hall Limited, which said that an employer is liable, according to Salmond on Tort (a renowned Legal Textbook), if the act is:-

"an unauthorised way of carrying out an authorised activity."

The Catholic Church, through their lawyers, have been arguing that they should not be liable for what a priest does because he is called by God to his vocation, and follows the will of God in everything he does. It is said that he is detached from his bishop, and is serving his community. Thus there is no legal link, and priests are on their own.

One can see that this type of technical argument, when the priest has clearly used his position to abuse a boy or girl, perhaps even on Church premises in the robing room of the church, before or after choir practise, is not exactly appealing, though has occupied many "Appeals" in long legal argument - particularly the Court of Appeal in the JGE case above.

The news of the refusal of leave to appeal by the Supreme Court was commented upon by Cathy Perrin, who works for the Catholic Church Insurance Association, as follows:-

"This will not just affect Catholic priests. It will have impacts on commercial organisations and make local authorities responsible for the actions of foster carers."

As a foster carer myself, I can quite appreciate the arguments on vicarious liability, even though, in reality, the law (admittedly a very old decision) does not hold local authorities liable for the actions of foster carers. Of relevance is:-

  1. They pay us to look after their children.
  2. They put us through a rigorous vetting procedure.
  3. They provide us with training.
  4. They assess us every year.
  5. They govern whether or not we are authorised to take any more children.
  6. The provide the children whom we look after.
  7. They visit us regularly to see how we are going on, and provide us with support.
The only criteria which is absent, as far as I can see, when one compares foster carers with the Catholic Church is religion. In all other respects the position is the same.

Will we see the law develope to make local authorities liable for foster parents? Against the backdrop of a cash strapped local authority, one wonders how appealing such a change in the law will be. East Cheshire Local Authority, however, organises automatic insurance for us all, just in case any claims are made. This type of arrangement, however, has not been in force for very long. Most of the cases relate to abuse which took place many years ago, at a time when there wasn't any insurance other than what the foster carers may have arranged for themselves, and only then to cover parents where their house was burned down, for example, or property damaged by foster children.

So where will it all lead? The change in the Pope, and his dramatic resignation, has brought all this to the fore once again. I don't think I can sum it up better than Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, who said in the Guardian article:

"It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this case : it will almost certainly become an international precedent, opening the door to financial liability against the church for tens of thousands of victims of abuse, worldwide.

Evidence abounds of the shameless lengths to which the church has stooped for decades to evade financial responsibility for widespread abuse of children in its care. To have fought to evade liability for admitted abuse is both morally repugnant and a continuing blatant breach of the church's obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child."

I wish I had the courage to be as outspoken.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Northern Ireland Abuse - where next?

The extent of news and announcements surrounding abuse these days is somewhat epidemic. The latest revelation (well perhaps quite not revelation as it has been around for a while) is a Commission of Inquiry in Northern Ireland to look at abuse many years ago within institutions, which will simply have an investigative rather than a compensatory arm.

They have announced a poster campaign to alert survivors to their existence, and encourage them to come forward in order to tell their stories of abuse. For more details go to our Abuselaw webpage where we have posted the story.

The Commission is staffed by various experts in the field, including a fellow ACAL Executive Officer called David Lane, who has many years experience as a Social Work Consultant. They will listen to the allegations of abuse and make recommendations. It is called the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry and can be found on the web at www.hiainquiry.org/

The Northern Irish Government has been a bit slow to catch up in that its sister, Eire, apologised for abuse committed at the hands of the government in institutions for many years, in partnerships with various religious bodies such as the Catholic Church and various other religious bodes, who had acted in partnership to run the country's care, and educational systems for many years. They set up the Residential Institutions and Redress Board at the beginning of the millennium, and closed its doors in 2005. The compensatory arm was set up at a time when Ireland had a lot of European Grant money, which Britain didn't get, when it joined the Euro. The money has since run out, hence its closure.

Northern Ireland has a similar, but different at the same time, problem to south of the border. Often mentioned is various Nazareth House homes, but there are many others. We have Northern Irish clients too, but normally when they have emigrated over here to escape the poverty (and maybe abuse)

Northern Ireland has the same jurisdiction to England and Wales, but the laws are slightly different locally. The law of sexual abuse and time delays is no different.

I hope that NI extend their government commission to include a compensatory element as it is unreasonable to offer one but not the other. It tells me that they are paying lip service to the need to listen and be understanding without going over the top, denying the victims a choice of speaking their truth, and at the same time appear to be caring for the needs of some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Are lawyers really ripping us all off?

Divorce - a sad experience
In the Guardian today is coverage of a summary of complaints made to the Legal Ombudsman, and top of the list is Divorce. It is said that:-

"The Legal Ombudsman has warned that some solicitors are failing to advise divorcees to settle courtroom battles before costs rise out of control because of the "emotional rawness" of those involved. In a report on the costs of separation, Adam Sampson says that in the economic downturn there is increasingly a tension between lawyers financial self-interest in prolonging legal action and their responsibility to offer clients informed advice. Nearly a fifth (18%) of the 7,500 complaints Mr Sampson's office resolved last year involved divorce or family law-related cases, making it the most complained about area of law in England and Wales. "

This is a difficult point. The client has to be listened to and advised. Many of them come to us because they want a scrap. If we tell them that is a bad thing because divorces are meant to be convivial, then it can sound as though we are not listening or fighting the sort of battle the client wants to fight.

Obviously we have to advise on costs. Indeed there are developing at the moment - we are developing such a model - fixed price modules for different types of work, where it is possible to predict costs due to the type of work involved.

It is standard practise to advise on costs in a client care letter. Often, however, clients are very happy for us to fight their battles until it comes to getting the bill, when suddenly they become unhappy because it dawns on them that we are not working for nothing.

Somewhere between the two extremes there is a middle ground. In an emotional situation, however, there will always be the client, who doesn't want to pay, doesn't want to settle, and wants to fight on. It is the nature of the beast. Divorce brings the worst out of all of us.

With the withdrawal of legal aid in April, there are going to be many many litigants in person, who can't get any justice and who clog up the courts with enquiries. The courts are anticipating this and are coming out with pilots to assess staffing needs. All this, of course, when the government are closing court buildings and getting rid of staff....where will it all end...Armageddon, that's where.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Why did the Pope really resign?

Children run in St. Peter's Square
The Vatican is, it seems, not immune to spin. They have announced that Pope Benedict XVI (not his real name you understand - in a former life he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) has resigned early due to "ill health". Video of him falling asleep during ceremonies has been broadcast. But is that the real reason?

Why do clergy in the Catholic Church have a real name and a religious name? If one becomes Pope, one changes one's name again. If you were a mistrustful victim of abuse, you would say that it makes priests more difficult to trace. Certainly police investigating a children's home run by brothers in Merseyside had just such a problem in the 1990's. The real reason is, of course that they are agents of God, and thus must take on the name of a Saint, it makes logical sense, n'est-ce pas?

It has been said that the retired Pope will live within an apartment inside the walls of the Vatican. Some have speculated that this is to keep him safe from prosecution for moving on sex offending priests in Germany. One cannot believe everything one reads in newspapers, even more so the Internet. In my experience, however, there is no smoke without fire, and that most reports have a grain of truth in them somewhere. At the very least, he was part of a system which seemed to do this sort of thing routinely in the past.

He is the first Pope to retire for 600 years, the remainder have died whilst in post - a strange world where one has to work until one dies. Judges used to be able to work in this country until they were 75, whereas now the age has been lowered to 70. So why do Popes work until they die? Another question - why does the Vatican have its own judicial system, and anonymity for anyone working within it? Tradition, tradition, and tradition dear boy, a creature of history. Pope Benedict is a traditionalist, as is the Catholic Church.

One begins to see why the Pope will be safe within the walls of the Vatican. He will be immune from any interference from outside.

In this Guardian article victims of German Child Abuse campaign outside the Vatican. The German legal system does not appear to be anywhere near as advantageous to victims as the law in England and Wales. I have been a solicitor since the beginning of civil cases in 1994, when the law here, too, was much less helpful to survivors, simply because it had not developed against a backdrop of such cases. I suspect, also, that there is not the backing of Legal Aid, that we have here, which supports such cases - even after April 2013, when the government have managed to demolish Legal Aid on the grounds of cost.

The article goes into detail of how Ratzinger tried to suppress openness in investigation, and was part of the system of moving priests accused of child abuse, who then carried on abusing further in their new location. A familiar story, it appears, all over the world, and certainly in England.

Is the Pope resigning because he is so ashamed of the system he has uncovered. Has he run out of energy and courage to properly uncover, and change it? It is said he is surrounded by like minded Cardinals.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating of humble pie, an open and transparent Catholic Church open to change. Will it happen? Is the Pope a Catholic? Once again I rest my case....keep saying that...must think of something new...or am I just stuck in a rut and reluctant to change...mmm.....

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Should alleged sex offenders have anonymity?

Father McSweeney who has been arrested.
I was reading that "Operation Fernbridge", which is investigating the Elm House Guest House scandal, has arrested a Norfolk Priest called Tony McSweeney. The police have named him. The article refers to him resigning as a governor from the Notre Dame School in Norwich - obviously as a result of the investigation. It appears that the Priest was a visitor to the Guest House, hence the link.

Operation Fernbridge are also looking at claims "that senior political figures and others sexually abused boys at the Elm Guest House". In the next paragraph of the BBC News article it is stated that the other person arrested as part of the operation is "a 70-year-old man who was arrested in East Sussex"

I knew about this police operation before it happened. I met Tom Watson MP in Parliament so that I could share with him my knowledge of abuse in many children's homes and other locations all over the country. I have been dealing with such cases for the past 18 years. Sadly it has taken Jimmy Savile to re-awaken interest in the subject. Tom used parliamentary privilege to make an announcements in Parliament after hearing that previous police investigations had been "buried" many years ago, particularly because political figures were implicated.

So my question is "Why was the 70 year old man not named?" Is it because he is a well known political figure. There may be a very good explanation, which I have not heard. There have been many other examples of arrested alleged sex offenders not being mentioned in the recent "celebrity" police investigations.

I know that there has been much debate in the past about whether or not alleged sex offenders should enjoy the same anonymity that victims have. It is easy these days to persuade a judge to refer to  the victim of abuse by initials eg AB. At one time it would not have been so easy, but the protection of vulnerable adults, thankfully, is now much higher up the legal and political agenda.

The police, usually, want to announce the name of the arrested individual.  They know that if the abuse took place in an institution that other witnesses can, and often do come forward. It can provide corroborative evidence, which ultimately assists their case. I can remember accused sex offenders advertising for character witnesses, but getting, instead, complainants approaching the police, in a cruel twist of irony.

I remember that when Matthew Kelly, the famous comic actor, was arrested many years ago, he professed his innocence strongly, and objected to being named in the media. There is an argument that if someone is charged, they have not been proved to be guilty, and could, in any future trial, be acquitted. In a pure legal world, judges hate trial by media, and are always concerned that juries will be influenced by what they read in the papers.

So why, in this Operation, have they not named an arrested person? Is it because the police are apprehensive about being sued in slander, or have been so threatened by media lawyers? When will we find out his real name? When he is charged presumably? All this cloak and dagger mystery does nothing, I am afraid to persuade the conspiracy theorists, of which I am certainly not one, that there isn't yet another cover up... or is there....who said I was paranoid.......???


Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Kesgrave Hall Boarding School investigated

Lee Woolcott Ellis - one of the victims urged other victims
to come forwards - see here
When I strarted working in the area of child abuse back in 1994, everyone was appalled at how many children's homes were infiltrated with paedophiles, and how much organised abuse had taken place in instituions which were meant to care for children.

Merseyside Police were investigating nearly 90 homes, Greater Manchester 66, and Cheshire a number. 41 out of 43 Police forces had a major abuse investigation in their area. People said that this must be a freak of history, and that it would not last.

Almost every week we hear of a new abuse investigation springing up - Suffolk Police have now launched a new investigation into Kesgrave Hall Boarding School. Read the story in the Guardian - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/22/suffolk-police-child-abuse-school

It appears that a 1992 investigation went nowhere even though several staff were investigated. The Police, with the new "Savile" type initiative, are now having another look at the previous investigation after further complaints have been made. Is it too little, too late, we have to ask.

It is a shame that lack of enthusiasm for abuse which took place years ago on the part of the police has to be rekindled by the investigation of a dead celebrity, who the police will never be able to prosecute, yet have devoted untold resources towards investigating.

One has to sympathise, however, with the task of investigating 30 year old allegations where the alleged abusers are elderly, witnesses difficult to trace, and documents often destroyed.

We have to do this at QualitySolicitors Abney Garsden every day, and it is an uphill battle.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Will Paedophile MP's be prosecuted or will it be a whitewash?

Do I know any paedophile MP's? Honestly? No I don't. I have been acting for the victims of abuse since 1994, and I have never had to make any allegations against any high profile individuals yet. That all may change however with the announcement of Operation Fernbridge. The article in the Independent last week announced the setting up by the Metropolitan Police Force of an enquiry into allegations at Elm Guest House in London, which was visited by, allegedly, members of Parliament. You can read it here if you wish.

To be honest, the stories about links between Members of Parliament, and abuse are not new. I heard similar "rumours", which now appear to be firmly based in evidence, many years ago from support groups at the time (1996/7). Because none of us had spoken to the victims, who were obviously too afraid to speak out, we were unable to verify the information, and neither were the media, who heard similar second hand versions of events.

When powerful people are in danger, heads roll, and often do. I have heard stories about those who threaten to speak out, suddenly disappearing in accidents. Not only were there allegations of abuse by politicians, and members of the police force, but also judges, policemen, and others.

Strangely it has taken the death of a celebrity paedophile (Savile) to bring the news into the public domain all over again. Sadly Lord McAlpine has managed to inject fear into the media by his successful, well publicised slander payouts against the BBC, who, as public bodies often do, immediately fell on its sword, apologising to its back teeth. What I have heard about North Wales children's homes, and links with external members of society does not warrant columns inches in my blog. I hope the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth does come out. Sadly, I doubt it.

Back to the plot - Elm Guest House - I know that the Metropolitan Police are tasked with an investigation. Will they publicise the names of those they investigate? I doubt it. We heard that "a 65 year old man" was arrested and taken in for questioning at one point. Yet celebrities get the full glare of the headlines.

I have had a meeting with Tom Watson MP, who has my complete admiration and respect. After his statement in Parliament about the Peter Wright affair, he was flooded with calls from victims who had been abused by various individuals, including the Elm Guest House matter, which he has now passed to the police. It is no coincidence that he is a Socialist rather than Conservative. His motives, however, are non-political. He is a man who cares about the individuals rather than the institutions - exactly what MP's should be like. Sadly too many of them these days are more interested in their careers than their constituents.

I hope that the worms will be emptied out of the can, but somehow I doubt it.....